The San Antonio Spurs head off on their “rodeo road trip” for the fourth straight season, hoping that Manu Ginobili’s return will help them to stay hot during a stretch of eight straight contests away from the AT&T Center.
The Spurs go for their fourth straight win when they take on the Utah Jazz in the opener of a 17-day road swing.
A February spent mostly away from San Antonio has been become a habit for the Spurs, who are being forced out of their home arena once again as the rodeo comes to town. Apparently, the annual trip seems to agree with them.
In 2003, San Antonio went 8-1 during the stretch, and was 6-1 on the rodeo trip in 2004. Last year, the Spurs went 5-2.
Several Spurs have talked about how the grueling trip actually removes distractions and allows the players to bond, and the final results seem to support that. San Antonio ended 2003 and 2005 by winning the NBA championship.
The Spurs go into this February’s trip having won seven of their last eight following a 102-88 rout of Minnesota on Saturday. Tim Duncan broke out of an offensive slump with 28 points and 16 rebounds to lead San Antonio.
Duncan had scored fewer than 20 points in six of the previous seven games.
Along with Duncan’s return to form, the Spurs got a solid performance from Ginobili, who was sidelined last Sunday in Miami when he turned his right ankle. He has missed 13 games since Dec. 1 with injuries to his right foot and ankle, but had 14 points in 20 minutes.
“In the beginning I was scared to step on somebody or go to the basket,” Ginobili said. “That’s why I was a little slow and hesitant.”
San Antonio will need an effective Ginobili over the next 2 1/2 weeks, because it may need another dominant February road trip to keep pace with the surging Dallas Mavericks, who have won eight in a row and are tied with the Spurs atop the Southwest Division.
“We need to play consistent basketball,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It is hard to play that many games on the road. We have been successful on this trip in the past and hopefully we will be able to do that again this year.”
The Spurs have won their last three road games.
Utah lost its second straight and fourth in five games Saturday, 103-89 to the Mavericks.
“We were taking outside shots, but we couldn’t make them and it was tough getting offensive rebounds,” said Jazz forward Mehmet Okur, who scored 16 points.
Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko questioned his club’s effort after the Jazz pulled to within six points in the third quarter, saying the team “stopped playing” after that.
“We felt six points was good,” he said.
The Jazz are two games below .500 for the first time since Dec. 31, but coach Jerry Sloan the loss was more about Dallas than it was about Utah’s effort.
“I thought our guys were playing hard tonight. I really thought we were playing hard,” Sloan said. “Dallas gets to it and they get whatever they want and go inside and really take it to you. They’ve got guys that can put it on the floor, they got a lot guys that can pass and they got guys that can shoot it out on the floor. You have to be really good to try to stop them.”
Utah has won its last two home matchups with the Spurs.